Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Silent but Blinding Disease…

By: Shilpa Register, OD, MS, PhD, FAAO, FNAP Associate Professor UAB School of Optometry

UAB Eye Care is the clinical operation for the UAB School of Optometry, an integral part of the UAB Medical Center. Here, UAB optometrists and ophthalmologists who specialize in eye disease provide comprehensive care to the Birmingham and surrounding area. Our goal is to promote healthy habits and prevent the loss of vision from sight threatening eye diseases such as glaucoma. As part of this goal, we wanted to take a few minutes of your time to inform you of the symptoms and treatment for glaucoma since January is National Glaucoma Awareness month.

Glaucoma affects over 2.2 million people, but only 50% of them are aware that they have glaucoma. If left untreated, glaucoma will lead to blindness making it the 2nd leading cause of blindness in the world. We want this to change!

Glaucoma comes in many forms but most are marked with high eye pressures and subsequent damage to the optic nerve and vision loss. Because there is no pain, irritation, redness, or other noticeable symptom, it is extremely important that all adults obtain comprehensive eye exams from their optometrist on an annual basis. Most people do not notice any vision changes until a substantial portion of their vision has been lost. Any vision loss cannot be regained. The American Optometric Association recommends the following schedule for preventative dilated eye exams:

Table 1

Patient Age                     Risk-Free                                      At-Risk

Birth to 24 months          At 6 months of age                         At 6 months of age or as

2-5 years                         At 3 years of age                             At 3 years of age or as

6-18 years                       Before 1st grade and                       Annually or as
                                        every 2 years thereafter                   recommended

18-40 years                     Every 2 years                                   Every 1-2 years or as

41-60 years                     Every 2 years                                   Every 1-2 years or as

61 or older                       Annually                                          Annually or as recommended

Glaucoma is a silent disease that affects people of all ages with older adults being at the highest risk. Those individuals who are at-risk for certain types of glaucoma include older individuals, African Americans, Asians, and Latinos. Those patients with a positive family history of glaucoma are at higher risk for glaucoma. Most people do not know that diseases that affect your body also increase their risk of glaucoma including the presence of diabetes, poor perfusion or the presence of vasospasms. During the annual eye exam, optometrists can identify additional ocular risk factors such as high or asymmetric intraocular pressures, optic nerve enlargement, optic nerve asymmetry, high myopia, thin central corneal thickness, and visual field defects that could be indicative of glaucoma.

Optometrists will perform necessary tests to diagnose and monitor glaucoma. He or she may prescribe eye drops or recommend surgical intervention to stabilize the eye pressures and reduce further ocular damage.

What can you do to help your patients? 

  • Follow the AOA guidelines and recommend comprehensive dilated eye exams. 
  • Recommend that any patients with diabetes, poor perfusion, or vasospasm obtain a comprehensive dilated eye exam. 
  • Encourage your glaucoma patients to follow the treatment and follow up recommendations.

To contact UAB Eye Care for referrals and/or consultations, please call (205) 975-2020. We accept most vision and medical insurance plans.

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